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The positive side of Hurricane Lothar

Exactly 20 years ago, Hurricane Lothar knocked over more than ten million trees in Switzerland. Fourteen people died and the cost of the damage came to around CHF1.35 billion ($1.38 billion). However, the disaster wasn’t all bad, according to forestry experts. 

On the morning of December 26, 1999, Hurricane Lothar swept over Switzerland with winds of up to 272km/h (169mph), knocking over or bending 2% of the country’s trees.

The scenes of devastation are now covered by young trees ten to 15 metres high. These are mostly pioneer species such as willow, birch and mountain ash as well as species that dominated before the storm, explained the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape ResearchExternal link (WSL).

In the central plateau and in the foothills of the Alps beech trees in particular have regrown, with spruces at higher altitudes. The forests are even richer in species than before. 

“There is a lot that suggests that climate-robust forests are growing again here, with additional species such as oak, cherry, and Norway maple present,” said forestry scientist Peter Brang of the WSL. 

These species are better at delaying drought than beech and spruce, he said, adding that it was “astounding” that catastrophic disturbances could have a long-term stabilising effect in such situations.

Aufgeforsteter Wald
In August 2018 volunteers untie young trees from a protective wrap in an area of canton Lucerne that was hit by Lothar Keystone / Urs Flueeler

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR